That Limerick were in front at the final whistle was a fair result, sparking scenes at the final whistle reminiscent of last year’s Munster final triumph.
It justifies also the decision of manager TJ Ryan to remain at the helm following the recent controversial parting of the ways between his former co-manager Donal O’Grady and the Limerick County Board, Ryan’s faith in this team rewarded with a display of skill and grit that belied the critics, inside his own county especially.
Unfortunately — because that’s simply the way of these things — that same kind of criticism and pressure will probably now come the way of Eamon O’Shea and his management team.
The fact though, is that Tipperary lost to a side of real quality yesterday. Written off in most quarters, they hit the ground running and from Shane Dowling’s opening point in the fourth minute to Seamus Hickey’s game-clincher in the second minute of added time, Limerick were a team on a mission.
That this became the game it did was due also to the quality of the Tipperary team and their performance. Gearóid Ryan soon negated Dowling’s opener and from there, the intensity levels just ratcheted up and up.
The first goal came in the 16th minute and fell Limerick’s way. With the scores tied at 0-3 apiece, Graeme Mulcahy was felled in possession; just an ordinary 20m free but not an ordinary finish — using the now common Nash technique Shane Dowling threw the ball well in front, blasted to the roof of the net.
The Tipp players knew well in advance they would be in a battle; their fans now knew the same.
In the 21st minute came their own first goal and boy, what a goal it was. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher is having a whale of a season and was proving a real handful again in this game; it was about to get better. Somehow he won possession in the midst of a scrum of Limerick players, somehow he managed to advance on goal, somehow he managed to get off the shot — goal, Tipp now trailing by just one (1-5 to 1-4).
Limerick came back from that, three points in a row, but it was Tipperary finishing the half stronger with four in a row (free-taker Seamus Callanan with three of those), leaving it tied at the break, 1-8 each.
Tipp continued that momentum after the restart, a goal within two minutes, Gearóid Ryan stealing into open space, found by a deft Kieran Bergin pass, no chance for Nicky Quaid.
This though, was when Limerick really showed their quality. Four points in a row, two of those huge strikes from captain Donal O’Grady.
Thus was the die cast, thus would this game progress. Tipperary would take the lead, Limerick would claw it back, everyone digging in all over the pitch but nonedigging more deeply or more effectively than midfielder James ‘Jim Bob’ Ryan. He’s had some great games for Limerick but this was surely his finest hour.
Entering the final minutes Tipperary had managed to again build a one-goal lead, 2-16 to 1-16.
Enter again the irrepressible Shane Dowling. A few minutes earlier Shane had been culpable when Graeme Mulcahy had the ball in the Tipperary net, called for a foul on Padraic Maher under the dropping ball.
Now, taking a pass from the surging Kevin Downes, Shane found himself with little room to manoeuvre just inside the large parallelogram, had the confidence and presence of mind to move out from goal, then the power and ability to rifle the equaliser past Darren Gleeson.
Tails up, entering injury-time Limerick now came in search of the winner and come it did.
Sub Thomas Ryan pointed in the 71st minute, then Seamus Hickey broke forward and scored the insurance point with aplomb.
Fitting Munster championship semi-final, fitting result; writing off either of these teams now would be foolish in the extreme.
Scorers for Limerick: S Dowling 2-9 (1-9f); D O’Grady 0-2; K Downes 0-2; S Hickey, P Browne, D Hannon, G Mulcahy, T Ryan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: G Ryan 1-2; J O’Dwyer 0-5 (1f); S Callanan 0-5 (3f); Patrick Maher 1-0; N O’Meara, N McGrath, L Corbett, D Maher 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: N Quaid; T Condon, R McCarthy, S Hickey; P O’Brien, W McNamara, G O’Mahony; P Browne, J Ryan; D Hannon, D O’Grady (c), S Dowling; G Mulcahy, K Downes, S Tobin.
Subs: T Ryan for Tobin (61); M Ryan for Mulcahy (72).
TIPPERARY: D Egan; C Barrett, Padraic Maher, M Cahill; J Barry, B Maher (c), C O’Mahony; K Bergin, S McGrath; G Ryan, N McGrath, N O’Meara; J O’Dwyer, S Callanan, Patrick Maher.
Subs: L Corbett for Barry (54); D Maher for O’Meara (62); C O’Brien for Cahill (inj. 65); S Bourke for O’Dwyer (68); T Stapleton for S McGrath (71).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).
Shane Dowling’s second goal in the 68th minute tied the game at 2-16 apiece and gave Limerick the game-winning lift.
Limerick’s power, pace and fitness. Intensity maintained from first ball to last.
All 15 Limerick players paraded without their helmets, both teams did the full circuit — great to see!
Bonner Maher was such a handful again, Seamus Hickey back to his best, Shane Dowling got 2-9, but James ‘Jim Bob’ Ryan was THE man.
Hard to fault either management team, both sides at a perfect pitch, but kudos to TJ Ryan for the way he has handled the pressure and setbacks of the past couple of months. This win puts some of his home critics very much back in their box.
Barry Kelly (Westmeath) missed several calls but was spot on for the disallowed Limerick goal. Did reasonably well overall.
Munster final for Limerick on July 13; All-Ireland qualifiers for Tipperary, forced down the long road for the second year in a row, by the same team.